Reluctant hero praises family

Sawtell resident David Andren has received a bravery award for saving the lives of passengers when a junk sailing in Halong Bay, Vietnam, capsized on September 24, 2009.
Sawtell resident David Andren has received a bravery award for saving the lives of passengers when a junk sailing in Halong Bay, Vietnam, capsized on September 24, 2009. David Andren

DAVID Andren says he looks back on the heroic actions he performed 18 months ago with feelings of uncertainty and reluctance.

The Sawtell resident rescued fellow passengers on board a three-storey vessel which capsized in North Vietnam in 2009.

Reflecting on a traumatic night at sea, Mr Andren yesterday displayed the humility of an average Aussie hero, questioning whether his response warranted a bravery award.

Government honours aside, what he did that night saved the lives of not just his own family, but many others.

“I feel a bit funny about the bravery award. I don’t think I did anything particularly brave,” the local architect said.

Humbled by the accolade, Mr Andren recalled the events of September 24, 2009.

On an idyllic holiday in Vietnam with his wife, Narelle, and his daughter, Sally, the family sat down for a casual dinner on board a three-storey cruising vessel.

Just after sunset cruising towards Halong Bay, the junk was hit by a strong ocean-blown wind gust.

“The vessel started to lean, I even made an off-the-cuff joke about it,” he said.

“I got up out of my seat, on the starboard side and moved to the port side joking that my weight would right the vessel.

“Before I knew it the vessel was on a 45-degree lean and from there it rolled to its side.

“There were terrible sounds of cutlery, plates and glasses sliding from tables and smashing on the ground, windows breaking and people screaming.”

In those fleeting seconds, Mr Andren said he acted instinctively climbing out of a window and standing on a ledge, using his vantage point to assess the situation.

“I watched it all unfold below me, I rode it down into the water.

“Within seconds, the lower decks began taking on water, my thoughts instantly turned to my family.

"I grabbed Sally and helped her out of the window.

“I called out for Narelle and finally reached her.

"In the panic she had been knocked underwater by other passengers.

“I was pulling people out as fast as I could, I must have helped three or four people before I got to Narelle.

With his family safely perched on the highest point of the vessel, David heard a woman desperately calling for help.

In the confusion and darkness he returned to the decks, using her voice to guide his path.

Finding the cabin, he smashed in the door.

The cries came from a French tourist, Alize, who was trapped in her cabin.

“She had been taking a shower when the vessel began to capsize,” he said.

With the help of his French-speaking daughter, he and his wife rescued Alize whose head was pressed against the ceiling.

Alize’s boyfriend Jeremy drowned, as did an English couple and a Vietnamese guide.

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